Think about the influencers you follow on social media. Have you stopped to ask yourself if they’re even real people?
I realize the irony of this question as people tend to post only the highlights of their lives on social media, not exactly the “real” moments. However, one would assume the people behind those accounts, photoshopped or not, are actually human… right?
Not in every case. This week, I learned that one popular Instagram influencer, Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela), is actually a computer-generated character (read: not human).
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I know Mercury retrograde isn’t for about another month, but it really be messing me up more than it does for humans and all my wires start crossing earlier than y’alls. It makes me anxious so I hit up House of Intuition for a few crystals and candles to help me cope. Love u @houseofintuition ! 💫💖💫
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With over 1.6 million Instagram followers, Lil Miquela looks, acts and posts just like every other influencer online. Yet, her entire existence is controlled and determined by her creators at Los Angeles-based company Brud.
Lil Miquela is just one of a growing army of virtual influencers used by major brands like Balmain, Calvin Klein and Prada. Even KFC has joined in on the fun by creating a virtual version of Colonel Sanders. The younger, suaver version of the fried chicken mogul’s entire appearance was modeled from an inspiration board of Instagram’s most popular male influencers.
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I may be a restaurant mogul and international inspiration, but I’m still just a kid who loves being in the kitchen. #humble It’s important never to lose sight of the things that make you who you are. For me, it’s being in the kitchen and making amazing fried chicken. That’s what got me here, and I never want to lose that young and hungry Colonel who spent all his time perfecting fried chicken. I’m still that kid who straps on an apron and makes fried chicken. And I’ll never lose that part of me. Never lose the things that make you who you are. This is part of my #secretrecipeforsuccess. #candid #candidkitchen #colonelskitchen #humble #friedchicken #advice #success #entrepreneur #behindthecurtain #keys #respect #inspiration #positive #positivethoughts #artistatwork #majorkey #cookingram #cooking
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But this begs the question, should all brands be using avatars to do their influencer work?
From a business perspective, the case for virtual influencers is attractive. A company could create the perfect ambassador from scratch to have at their disposal 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (reminder: artificially generated personalities don’t need sleep). Plus, with full control over the influencer, the chances of human error resulting in a PR nightmare are slim to none.
But can they fully replace human influencers?
Data from Captiv8 shows that even with the growing popularity of virtual influencers, users have engaged with them less than their average, human counterparts. 🤔
As followers, we know human influencers’ posts are curated to the nth degree. But, at the end of the day, they’re still living and breathing people—just like us.
The New York Times shares:
“Edward Saatchi, who started Fable, predicted that virtual beings would someday supplant digital home assistants and computer operating systems from companies like Amazon and Google.
‘Eventually, it will be clear that the line between a Miquela and an Alexa is actually very slim,’ he said.”
Can pixelated avatars replace the more authentic connection we feel with “real” influencers online? Only time will tell.
Ashley Sams is director of marketing at Ready North. She joined the agency in 2017 with a background in marketing, specifically for higher education and social media. Ashley is a 2015 graduate of The University of Mount Union where she earned a degree in marketing.